The annual da:ns festival livened up the region’s dance scene with its diverse programmes
The 13th edition of the Esplanade—Theatres on the Bay’s “da:ns festival” last month proved that it’s come a long way from promoting dance in the region and connecting with the local and regional audiences and practitioners, with diverse programmes covering many different genres in addition to demonstrations and workshops. Now an exclusive Southeast Asia stop for international tours and world premieres, the festival is a hot spot for international producers, presenters and critics too.
Singapore’s own T.H.E. Dance Company is celebrating their 10th anniversary, and looking back, the festival has been integral to their development in becoming one of Asia’s premier contemporary dance companies. While I was watching their triple bill last weekend at the 18th International Dance Festival (IDF) as part of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre’s (BACC) 7th Performative Art Festival (PAF), I realised that it was da:ns that not only introduced me to T.H.E. but also showed me how they took risks in artistic experiments.
The da:ns festival last month commissioned its new work “Invisible Habitudes” by artistic director and founder Kuik Swee Boon. As an auspicious occasion calls for a special treat, in the late evenings the host transformed the free-admission outdoor theatre into a ticketed one with the help of a black canvas wraparound. While this gave the audience a better focus on the stage action, it couldn’t prevent the irrelevant noise ambience from the weekend crowd at nearby restaurants.
Notwithstanding that background clatter, the six dancers formed a strong ensemble and showcased their training in Kuik’s “hollow body” methodology, which attempts to link the mind, body and heart. With amazing live music accompaniment by Taiwanese multi-instrumentalist and composer Wang Yujun on stage right, the dancers, in different formations and with highly practical use of the minimal set props, discussed how our belief and identity are affected by our rapidly changing social and political landscapes. With such a stunning backdrop of the mostly man made Marina bay, Kuik, himself also the set designer, should have held more rehearsals there to see how it could be further incorporated into this work.
The Annexe Studio is another refurbished space in the retail area of this national performing arts centre and in the past few years some shows have fitted better than the others. Another da:ns festival cocommissioned work with CultureLink, the interdisciplinary and intercultural collaboration between Singaporean dancer and choreographer Daniel Kok, his Polish counterpart Karol Tyminski, composers and musicians collective Filastine and Nova, and Japanese visual artist Miho Shimizu, fit perfectly. Audience members could not only walk in and out of this five-hour durational performance titled “xhe” but also sit in the performance area where there was no boundary between us and the performers or sit closer to the walls and become mere observers.
All elements put together, the work gave ample, and leisurely, time for the audience to absorb and each artist, or element, had her moment to shine. This interdisciplinary work was the opposite to just another hodgepodge.
It is worth noting from my attendance at two shows two days apart that the young audience at the Sunday afternoon performance seemed to enjoy it more than the mostly dancegoers on the opening night. In the end, “xhe” is a playground for both the artists and audiences’ imagination and creativity, not just a platform for the former to put something into our mind.
The writer’s trip was fully supported by CultureLink. Special thanks to Goh Ching Lee, James Tay, Hoo Kuan Cien and Isabelle Yee.